REPUBLIC OF FIJI
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Bula and welcome to our fourth island destination! That first greeting will be very familiar to anyone that has stepped off onto this jewel of the South Pacific. From the airlines employees and customs officers to the serenading men with guitars, Bula (pronounced Boo-lah) is the first word in everyone’s vocabulary. Coupled with some of the warmest brightest smiles you've ever seen, this greeting wishing you well makes for an epic start to any Fiji visit.
Having learnt the wonders of ‘Bula’, one of the next discoveries is the legendary ‘Fiji time’. The zero stress, take-it-as-it-comes approach of the locals is something that hits most people fresh from their fast paced environs back home. If your snorkel trip was meant to leave at 10 and it’s now 11, “No worries, you’re on Fiji time” is likely to be the local response. Although Fiji time may have its limitation on business it sure puts the relaxation in holiday. In retrospect it’s a concept that Karla may have taken onboard while doing the bulk of our Fiji cooking. The process of caramelising sugar did wonders to Aaron’s levels of hangryness.
Fiji is located a short two hour flight from Vanuatu or a little over three hours from New Zealand (refer map image). For most visitors, Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, is the first stopping point as both Nadi and Suva are located there. However there are another 332 islands to explore. It is these islands which conjure images of swaying palm trees, white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and beautiful coral. During some of our Fij Airway flights between New Zealand and the US, we have slipped in some 6-8 hour layovers to enjoy some beach time. It's a great short stop before the next leg of the trip.
Traditional Fijian food is typified by fish, fruit and vegetables, such as coconut, taro (a yam like root vegetable), sweet potatoes, cassava and breadfuit. Two popular elements of fijian cuisine are kokoda and lovo. Kokoda is much like the Central or South American ceviche. It is made of finely hooped raw mahi-mahi fish, dressed with miti, a thick coconut cream dressing with onions, lemon or lime juice, salt and chillies. Many of the Pacific nations have a different take on this dish but the key ingredients noted above remain the same. The fish synonymous with the dish, Mahi mahi, is a dazzling gamefish that often adorns any advertisement for charter fishing Fiji’s tropical waters. Meanwhile, lovo is much the same as New Zealand’s hangi. The word lovo means a ‘feast cooking in the earth’ and is normally prepared for communal celebrations such as weddings or festivals. You may even encounter it while staying at a larger resort there.
Our Fijian dinner involved five different recipes and multiple cooking methods, making it our most complex and time-consuming undertaking to date. Of course this can been reduced if you're thinking of cooking something Fijian. For our main course we took a leaf out of the kokoda book and selected a baked fish recipe. Due to seasonal availabilty here in New Zealand, we used Wahoo, a tropical fish often used by Fijians. The novelty was wrapping the fish in banana leaves, sourced from a local Asian market here in Christchurch. The recipe we used can be found here. Our greens came by way of a coconut bean salad, relatively simple but the perfect foil for the tender fish. On the side was some delicious lolo buns. Lolo means coconut milk so lolo buns are simply buns steamed in coconut milk. The process for cooking this was a novelty in itself. Check out the recipe link for more information. If you haven’t noticed already, coconut is the recurring theme in all the dishes and considering the plentiful supply of these in the islands, it is a true staple food for this island nation.
To keep Aaron content while waiting on dinner, we also made some taro chips. These are super easy to prepare and provide a fun alternative to standard potato chips even if they may not be overly common in Fiji. For dessert we went with Purini, a burnt sugar and coconut cream steamed pudding. As previously mentioned, the process of caramelising sugar proved to be an arduous and difficult one. However the end result was well worth the efforts and multiple attempts. This dessert really was amazing.
INGREDIENTS LIST (AS PER ORIGINAL RECIPE):
4 Large Fish Cutlets e.g. Cod, Haddock
1 Onion, sliced
4 Tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 Green Chilies, deseeded and finely chopped
240ml/8fl.oz. Coconut Cream
For the buns:
4 cups flour, sifted (3 cups flour to make the buns, set aside 1 cup)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 packages yeast (22g)
1 package baking powder (11g)
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cooking oil (for kneading)
For the Lolo:
1L coconut milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup coconut cream (made at home as described here, or out of the can)
3 cups washed and thinly sliced green beans
3/4 cup finely diced tomatoes
3/4 cup peeled and thinly sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 very finely sliced jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Taro Corms (whole and unpeeled)
Vegetable Oil (we recommend coconut oil)
Burnt Sugar & Coconut Cream Pudding
3 cups plain flour
1.5 cups sugar
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 banana or other fruits (optional)
1.5 cups coconut cream
1.5 tbsp butter
Vanilla 1 tsp (optional)
Some necessary kitchen gadgets and tools:
Deep cooking pot with lid
Dampened towel for steaming
Cake pan or ramekins
One of the Fijian islands, Taveuni, falls on the International Date Line which means you can place one foot either side of the line and be standing in today and yesterday at once.
The first Europeans to land in Fiji were shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from the Britich penal colonies of Australia.
It is considered disrespectful to touch someones head. One 18th century missionary accidentially touched the head of a chief and was killed and eaten for his action. Of course, the latter is no longer practised but as the head is considered connected to heaven, it would be a respectful custom to follow.
While throwing out your first attempt at caramelising sugar, have a read of these. It may help assuage your frustrations...
Drink kava, the wine of the Pacific, with the locals. Kava is a traditional Fijian drink made from the powdered root of the pepper plant mixed with water. It is a mildly narcotic drink that makes your mouth, lips, and tongue feeling tingly and numb. It supposed to make you feel very relaxed.
Relax in the Mamanuca Islands where sand, surfing and and snorkelling is next level. One of islands, Tavaru, is home to the world famous surf break, Cloudbreak. That’s sure to keep Aaron entertained for days, even if its watching from the shoreline or boat.
Swim in the cool, crystal clear waters of the mystical Sawa-i-Lau Caves on the northern Yasawa Islands. The limestone cavern is accessible via an underwater tunnel making for a small adventure Surrounding the caves is the famed Blue Lagoon synonymous with blissful relaxation. That sounds doable.
That's our take on Fiji done. Next up is Tonga. Feel free to tell us of your experiences with these island nations or even better join our subscribers list and you'll get an email telling you when our next update is up!!
Catching a stunning Fijian sunset. Beats sitting in the airport waiting 6hrs for your next flight.